October 22, 2012
This may be old news by now, but I wanted a few days to ponder the decline and fall of the Yankee Empire. I also wanted my good friend and NYY fan Steve J. to get back from his trip to Israel so I could greet him with a careful review of all that he missed while he was in the Promised Land. Welcome home, Steve, but as you probably heard, the Yankees did not make it there this year. And the prospects don’t look so bright for next year, either…..
Back at the start of the post-season, B.A.B.E.S. member Tom M. emailed me saying “now let the real season begin” – a quote he ascribed to “The Captain” - NYY’s iconic shortstop Derek Jeter. To which I promptly replied in my typical anti-Yankee and highbrow literary manner: “O Captain, my captain, fallen cold and dead.”
I meant no harm to Mr. Jeter, nor any disrespect to the memory of Abraham Lincoln as eulogized by Walt Whitman. I was just following my penchant for overstatement and somehow came up with an analogy that was eerily correct. Could there have been any more prophetic utterance about the future of the old men in Pinstripes – and not just the Captain? Or was it just the inevitable fruition of my endless carping about the Yankees?
There is no doubt that NYY’s post-season showing was historically inept, but I personally believe it was simply the culmination of a season-long decline that was masked by some inexplicable force that would not let them lose to the Baltimore Orioles. Once the Orioles were finally vanquished for the 12th and deciding time in 23 games – a series score that reminds me of Spassky v. Fischer in 1972 – the real NYY showed up at Yankee Stadium the next day and promptly went down with its Captain. Sure, it was only Game 1, and the Yankees showed some heart in overcoming a 4-run deficit in the 9th, but did anyone doubt that the series was over the moment the Captain fell? And, in truth, wasn’t it actually over even before the season began?
Starting in Spring Training with Michael Pineda flaming out at 23, to Mariano Rivera being carried off the field in Kansas City, there were many symbolic pictures of the fallen Empire. At mid-season there was the shattered ankle of the un-retired Andy Pettitte; CC Sabathia and Mark Teixiera each spent time on the DL down the stretch; and finally, in the post-season, the Captain himself was laid out at his shortstop position writhing in pain, refusing to be carried off the field but obviously not to return this season no matter how he exited the Yankee Stadium stage.
Add to these painful images the almost pathetic ones of Alex Rodriguez sitting comically in the Yankees dugout constantly spitting sunflower seeds and looking more like the water boy than the highest paid player in baseball. Even more humiliating was the fact that most in the Yankees’ organization acted like the water boy was more important. I never thought I’d say this, but I actually felt sorry for A-Rod, shackled to the Yankees’ bench, a prisoner of the biggest contract in sports history and universally hated for it. But as my wife so innocently but correctly observed: “You can’t blame him; he didn’t force them to give him all that money.” Absolutely true, and besides, there were so many other blame-worthy characters.
Adding to the leading-role catastrophes were these minor travesties: a) Robbie Cano’s “cooling off” from hitting .600 the last 10 days of the season to recording MLB’s first ever batter’s no-hitter in the post-season (0-29); b) Nick Swisher setting his own mark for post-season ineptitude (1-37 w/RISP); c) Eric Chavez ably mimicking Rodriguez by going 0-16 at the plate and making a game-losing error at 3rd base; and d) Raul Ibanez running out of magic and striking out to end Game 3 (isn’t that A-Rod’s job?) when the last chance to save the season presented itself. So, there were many more players than just #13 at fault here.
And some blame could be thrown at management, too, and not just for A-Rod’s contract being forced on Brian Cashman by Hank Steinbrenner. There was Cashman’s trade that brought Curtis Granderson from the Tigers and sent Austin Jackson and Phil Coke to Detroit (and DET also got Max Scherzer in the 3-way deal!). Certainly, Granderson contributed significantly to the 2009 title, but Jackson and Coke were vitally important to the Tigers’ post-season victories this year and last, while Granderson was benched just like A-Rod. It’s usually a good trade when both sides are benefitted, but would the Yankees undo the deal today if they could? I think so.
And then there is the manager, a guy I actually like and think is largely responsible for delaying the inevitable collapse for this long. But how can Girardi say emphatically that Rodriguez is his 3rd baseman one week and then bury him on the bench the next? Perhaps he felt he could not copy Joe Torre and simply drop Rodriguez to 8th in the order, but personally I don’t see how benching him for 3 games helped the Yankees’ cause (and the scoreboard doesn’t explain it either).
Once again, I’m amazed to hear myself defending A-Rod, but he just can’t be blamed for the collective failure of this flawed team (my description of NYY back in March, rememeber?). Of course, we may see the Tigers steam-roll through the World Series and prove to us that it was actually their pitching that caused the Yankees’ hitting woes. After all, as many of us picked DET to win the Series as picked NYY (4). The Tigers’ pitching was remarkably good, just as the Yankees’ hitting was remarkably bad, and as we all know, good pitching beats even good hitting, and dominates bad hitting. But no matter how good other teams are or who actually wins the World Series, the interesting story this off-season is going to be what happens with the Yankees. The Hot Stove doesn’t start for weeks, of course, but let me be among the first to ask these pressing questions about NYY in 2013:
1. Do Jeter and Rivera recover in time to start the season?
2. Can they recover fully enough maintain the grueling positions of shortstop and closer?
3. Is Swisher gone? And shouldn’t he be?
4. Will Sabathia and Teixeira have off-season surgery?
5. Does Ichio re-sign?
6. Does Cano get a long-term deal?
7. Who plays 3rd base?
8. Does Josh Hamilton wear pin-stripes next?
9. Is A-Rod in the starting line-up or on the bench? Is he traded or is he released if he refuses to waive his no-trade clause? (Hey, he’s only owed $114 million.)
10. Does Andy Pettitte come back again? If so, does he wait till the All-Star break to sign?
11. Does Girardi come back?
12. Do Hank and Hal realize that the Boss is dead and that is not what they want to do with their lives?
13. What would I do if I didn’t have the Yankees to hate?
*Some of you will know this to be the title of Whitman’s collection of poems that included in one edition the elegy for President Lincoln, “O Captain, my Captain!” You may not know, as I did not, that the title was apparently an inside joke by Whitman, since “leaves” was a term that poets used for mediocre poems that they selected to fill out a volume for printing and “grass” was the publisher’s term for how many pages would have to be used to print a volume. So, Whitman may have been playfully demeaning his own publication as composed of all mediocre works. If so, history has proven him incorrect, but I certainly like using the same idea to describe the 2012 New York Yankees and think that the title just might not be a joke when applied to them.